Dollars to Donuts: Tamara Hale of Splunk

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This episode of Dollars to Donuts features my conversation with Tamara Hale, the Director of Product Experience – Research & Insights at Splunk. We talk about the long tail of impact, being an anthropologist of work, and having a creative practice.

The ‘doing the research’ bit is only about a quarter of your job. The rest of it is all the other stuff that goes around it. It’s about storytelling and influence and developing a vision and creating alignment around who the customers are and creating alignment on what actually are the business goals. It’s your stakeholder mapping. It’s your internal research. It’s your knowledge management. It’s improving how we work. All that stuff is part of research, and if you only think of your job as that quarter, you’re missing out on some of the most interesting and also trickiest parts of the job. – Tamara Hale

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Steve Portigal: Welcome to Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk with the people who lead user research in their organization. I’m Steve Portigal.

Do you have nuanced or complex questions about your users? Perhaps high levels of pressure or internal politics are preventing you from making progress. Or maybe it’s the difficulty of the problem you’re trying to solve itself. In any of these cases, the consequence is the same: You’re not gaining the insights you need into your users’ behavior, beliefs, and attitudes. And, of course, without a deep understanding of your customers, it’s nearly impossible to design and build products that delight—and succeed. you’re looking for a top-notch partner who can help you execute a tough assignment, get in touch to discuss how I can help.

Today’s episode is with Tamara Hale, who uses she/they pronouns. She’s the Director of Product Experience – Research & Insights at Splunk.

Well, Tamara, thanks so much for coming onto the podcast.

Tamara Hale: I feel like I’ve made it in my career. I’m on the Steve Portigal Dollars to Donuts show. Excellent.

Steve: It’s great to have a chance to talk to you. Yes, I have a lot of power and I will use it for good or evil. We don’t know. I guess we’ll see how this goes before we assess that.

Tamara: Yeah, sounds good.

Steve: I understand you have a newish job and maybe we could start there.

Tamara: Sure. I joined Splunk about three months ago as the director of product experience for research and insights. Splunk is a database system and big data platform, and we help organizations collect, manage, and analyze machine-generated data. Super nerdy stuff. So we take in data from various sources, web servers, network sensors, other databases, and produce visualizations, graphs, dashboards, reports, alerts, that kind of thing. Main applications are around cybersecurity, incident response, and threat detection.

There’s also infrastructure and application performance analytics, so really understanding the health of your applications and infrastructure. And then powering network IT and business operations. Most of our customers are large enterprises. This whole space is known in the industry as digital resilience. It’s all about the ability to prevent and respond and recover from events that can disrupt a business or its users. It’s about keeping your email safe, recovering from service outages, or preventing attacks.

Most of our users are very technical users in security, IT, and DevOps, although that is changing over time, becoming less of a specialist tool and a more broader application. There’s also some cool smaller applications, like using wind and weather and tide forecasting to find the perfect wave for surfing, or monitoring a beehive’s environmental conditions and the activity of the beehive and health to innovate on beehive design. So lots and lots of different applications.

Steve: And the new role that you’re in, what’s the focus been or going to be?

Tamara: So, I’m managing essentially the user research team. I came in to centralize that team, mentor and grow the researchers that were already there. Fairly small team at the moment. Just help folks do better research and do research better, and then just teach the company how to use research, right? So main focus areas for me this year, there’s about four. One is creating a shared language and source of truth around our customers. So we have a lot of customer noise in the organization, right? Customer feedback comes from lots of different places these days. There’s customer success, there’s customer experience. We have this platform called Ideas. Many companies have this where users can submit things that we should build, right? Questions for what to build. We have focus groups with customers. And then of course we have our own research studies. And then there’s like all the one-off conversations that PMs are having with their customers, maybe their favorite customer or some customer that is especially noisy.

And it’s really hard for PMs to know what to pay attention to. And so shifting through all that noise and creating a clear signal for the products and technology organization, which is product management, engineering, and our team, the product experience team. That’s kind of one of the things that we’re focusing on. One of the ways we’re doing that is focusing on customer outcomes. It’s not rocket science to any researcher, but what is the thing that a customer actually wants to achieve, right? And then build the tools and solutions to help them, not the other way around. We’re using certain frameworks to do that.

One of the reasons we’re doing that is we want to know we have the products and solutions that we have built. How do they actually match what our customers want, right? We’ve got 20 years of engineering. We’ve got this giant suite of products, features, solutions. How do they actually match what our customers want to do? What’s missing? What do we still need to build? And then today, and this is kind of a theme that I think has been coming up for me in the last, I don’t know, five to seven years of my career. Like what do we need to sunset? What do we need to get rid of? What do we need to consolidate? How can we simplify? We’ve created all this complexity and all these like very specific tools, but how can we make everything easier to use by starting with the basics? So that’s one area of focus.

The other one is building better ways to measure and communicate the state of the product experience and changes over time, right? So that we’re doing that via a data and measurement strategy that’ll allow us to baseline where we are today, starting with the user experience, right? Not using other metrics like performance metrics or NPS and satisfaction, but like where’s the user experience? And using that to better communicate our investments in design and also product management and engineering, but really from a user experience angle. The ultimate goal there for me is to have shared goals and shared accountability with our partners because we’re tracking towards the same thing. Of course, that doesn’t replace all of the qualitative methods, but really bringing the things together. And then more generally, my goal is to enable the research and insights team to do research that impacts the right level of decisions, right? So we have been historically focused more around usability, moving in a direction where we are impacting higher level decisions on the product roadmap, what makes it onto the product roadmap. That’s obviously going to take some time. It also means doing less for us right now, but doing the right stuff, right?

So moving from insights about whether we built the thing right to whether we’re building the right thing, right? So that kind of stuff. And then just helping researchers with tools and training to grow their own careers, become specialists, learn new skills. A lot of that is operational as well, building systems around research and amplifying the value of research, whether that’s building out usability and heuristics programs so that we can focus on this other kind of research, research libraries so that we can make it easier to find past insights. We’re sitting on a ton of data. How do we squeeze the most out of that research data we have and make it easier for our partners to self-service on the parts that they can? And then, you know, what work do we do? Like building out prioritization and operating models, that’s all completely new. Those are sort of the three main areas.

There’s maybe one other that I want to mention, and I think this is an exciting one because I see many research teams kind of moving in that direction. So I also sit on a leadership council with other leaders who manage insights functions in the company. Right? So we are not the only source of customer data. I think we have a special role to play. I think we have unique skills and a unique perspective, but we’re not the only part of the organization that is talking to customers, you know, at all. And so many of us sit on this council together that includes customer success, customer experience, some other teams. And the goal is really to create a better customer experience for customers wanting to give feedback. Right? So thinking about the customer experience side of the feedback processes and just streamlining our operations and how we share insights with each other. This is all still very siloed. Right? So it reflects a very fractured understanding of who our customers are. My team looks at them from a product lens and from a specific product lens. Right? Customer success is seeing the tickets and complaints that are coming in. Customer experience is looking at satisfaction. Right? So those are all interesting data inputs and bringing those together and also figuring out how we, you know, how do we work better together in terms of sharing insights and also getting access to our customers. For me, that serves two purposes. One is helping the company become a learning organization, one that is curious about continually learning about customers for specific purposes and getting really clear on what the specific purpose of each, you know, feedback activity is, but also just, you know, being open-minded and discovering new things about customers and continually improving our learning.

It’s also about, I think I would summarize this as customer centricity in action. This is a soapbox that I’ve been standing on for, I don’t know, the last three years or so. Like most big tech companies today, you know, have customer centricity as one of their missions or values or intentions. Right? Like everyone has some version of do the right thing for the customer, the user, and you know, the business will follow and the profits will follow. So that’s not the problem anymore today. Right? It’s not around like, we don’t care what the user says. It’s like, how do you make sense of that in relation to technology constraints and business constraints and everything else that’s going on? And actually what I’ve discovered is how do you follow through? It’s not just about the intention of being customer centric.

It’s about making the right decisions and implementing the customer feedback. That’s where there’s a lot less rigor and operational excellence around. And so that’s sort of one of my missions around, and that has to be kind of a connected strategy around implementing feedback. And that can cover things from your internal education and learning. It could be, you know, your career frameworks, like how do you define what it means to be successful in different roles? It can be about giving people better tools to talk to customers and know what to do with that data. And then my own kind of personal mission, which kind of feels so basic that I don’t even know if it’s worth mentioning, but these days I feel like I keep coming back to it more and more, which is making sure that technology actually serves humans and human wellbeing and not the other way around. And I think that is really basic, but it’s important to keep coming back to that. And I find myself saying that in meetings more often again.

Steve: Earlier in that description, you used the word “centralized” as part of the mandate for you was coming in, and that word is often used to describe a reporting structure, an organizational structure, or what are individual researchers focused on, or not, and how do they work together. But the more you describe all of the things that you’re doing, so many of them– you used this great phrase. You said, “Bring things together,” and you used that phrase to describe a bunch of things–that council, the data. You really–I don’t know if this was your intention, but you kind of unpacked “centralized” for me as kind of a philosophy, that you’re building a more mature organization, and right now things are– many different kinds of things are scattered or siloed, as you mentioned. And to think about centralizing as an ethos, not a “where should researchers be placed” kind of a question.

Tamara: Yeah. I do love to geek out on where should researchers be placed, and the pros and cons I feel like in my career I’ve been mostly I’ve been like the first researcher or the only researcher or the first research leader I’ve, I’ve reported to design leaders like all kinds of places I’ve been in agencies, you know, I’ve been a contractor so I’ve experienced, like the full range of ways. I think there are always going to be pros and cons. I’ve been through a couple of centralization processes, some of them more painful and long than others, some more rapid. There’s always going to be things that you lose and gain and I think there, like there is no perfect org design, actually one of the ways I started listening to your podcast was I was doing research on org design, and I was doing some informational interviews and I was also listening to your podcast to like, understand how other organizations have done it right. And these things have to change over time like what is right now is not going to be the right thing necessarily in two years I think too much changes is not good and people need stability and, you know, good leadership can bring stability and kind of calm, calm the storms when there has been a lot of change, but even now I’m thinking about okay this is what I need right now, but I’m thinking about in two years what could that team look like. And I think to your point, it’s about why it’s not just about, we should just centralize for the purpose of centralization and because everyone else is doing it it’s about why do you want to do it.

And in our case it’s because, yeah, we need to be operating at a different level and we need more autonomy to make the right decisions about where, where are we going to put this team of amazing, you know, human behavior experts and let’s put them in the right places and also let’s give them some space my role as a leader is to give people some space to figure out where that should be and if you’re just servicing requests, that’s not a way to amplify value.

Steve: You mentioned this idea of doing less in terms of giving people space and servicing requests. Can you add a little context to what does doing less really mean?

Tamara: Yeah. On a very tactical level right now it’s about doing less usability research, not that I think there’s anything wrong with usability research I think it’s incredibly important, and it has a role to play. And I have managed teams of usability researchers, and sometimes that’s where you can have the biggest impact and where you can have the quickest wins. On a side note, when I was doing my research around org design. I talked to some of the folks at Microsoft. And at one point in the Microsoft history there was like a very intentional move to all researchers are going to become usability engineers, and actually at that moment in time they had a huge impact with that. And that was the right thing to do at that time, where I am right now that’s not, I think the right thing to do. Having said that, we can still build out scalable ways for PMs and designers to do usability research. But when you have a certain amount of resources you have to be really smart about where you’re going to put your resources, right, and I think that’s just, that’s just the way I think so a lot of that is about figuring out okay what is this actually what are you actually asking for, what are the unknown things that you need to know what are the decisions that you need to impact and then figuring out okay what is this. Is this best served by a usability study or is this best served by some other type of study, and then giving people really clear pathways for how to get those needs met. As you probably know Steve I took a lateral move into operations for a couple of years. And just part of the way my brain works is always like how can we use the existing resources, how can we work within the existing constraints, while also creating room for us to do new cool stuff that we can’t do yet. So right now it’s, it’s been hard conversations around like okay do we really need to be doing this like, is this an okay art for you. Is this something that is a multi-year roadmap item or is part of a multi-year roadmap. You know, then yes let us help you with that. Have you already decided you’re going to build this anyway. You know, then that’s probably not a good place for my team to be helping you but here’s what you can do.

I have to remind myself, every time I come in, people just don’t know yet like partners just don’t know all those nuances about research right. And that’s why we’re here, we’re here to help guide them to make good decisions. And, you know, it’s a very technical product, which is really fun. I did a lot of consumer and, you know, government work early on in my career and then somehow I found myself in enterprise SaaS. And one of the things I’ve loved about it so much is, you know, I get to be an anthropologist of work, I get to understand how people work and work is just such a thing, you know, we spend so much time at work it shapes our identity, especially, you know, in our culture, and especially as a knowledge worker. And what’s different at Splunk is that this is has been historically a really really technical product, you know, it’s security analysts and security professionals, but that industry is changing and like many enterprise SaaS products, there’s more and more pressure for people without all of the technical skills to be doing some of the work and so there’s some lot of interesting work around simplifying the experience and building for a broader, you know, customer base, people who are who don’t have as many of the technical skills.

And that’s also reflected in the company culture, you know, it’s a very kind of nerdy product where like people, people are power users or traditionally they’ve been power users and they will wear the Splunk t-shirt and there’s like all this internal culture and myth and ritual that that customers are part of and it’s becoming a more of a, it’s not, it’s never going to be a consumer product but it’s starting to be used by different kind of folks in the organization. And so now we’re no longer building just for these very very deep specialists, we’re building for a broader base.

Steve: I think over our careers that we spend time in research, we definitely hear stories about the challenges or the approach to doing research in technical domains or in domains where customers have a strong relationship with the product. I guess I want to ask about a variation. Do you have any perspective on leading research, this new role that you’re in, leading research in a technical domain, a technical product company that you’re reflecting on?

Tamara: One thing that comes to mind is the advice that I give to any new researcher that’s starting any kind of role, which is embrace the fact that you’re new. It’s so easy to slip into the like status quo of this is how we do this, this is the accepted knowledge that so quickly becomes just, you know, part of the fabric, because that’s what you’re expected to do right you’re expected to learn how the company works and to learn, you know, how the customer does things. But I always encourage researchers to kind of suspend themselves in that new status for as long as possible. And just observe, observe and of course, make notes, right, because before too long you’re going to accept things as status quo that never should have been accepted as the status quo. And I’m reminding myself of that even as I tried to understand the very technical product and I tried to get to the level of expertise that I need to get to in order to coach my teams, and it’s a bit different.

I am not the researcher, I can’t have that deep level of expertise on every product and I shouldn’t because my job is to make sure that all the things are connected and that people are talking to each other who are the experts, it’s no longer my job to be the expert on every, every part of the product with the same level of expertise. But it is my job to listen to my experts and find out what they need and get them connected to the right resources and the right people. And in some ways it, I don’t want to say it helps but to have some distance from that, I think is crucial as a researcher as a research leader, you know, anyone who’s trying to make some change.

Steve: You know, you talk about embracing the new and the signpost for that for me is always the pronouns that we use. The new person always says you, even though they’re employed by the company, they always say, you guys do this or you do this. And at some point, right, we start to say we. And that to me is like once you fully step into we, that’s when it’s harder to embrace the new. You aren’t new anymore.

Tamara: Yeah, I like that but to some degree we have to become the we in order to have the trust to point out the things that are you that you’re doing wrong, right?

Steve: I mean, I work as a consultant, it’s the same thing. You sort of move around between these different ways of including yourself or excluding yourself from the people that you’re working with. And I want to remind people that I’m bringing an outside perspective and I want to remind them that I’m on their team. And I think I am pretty inconsistent. I move back and forth as I try to navigate those mindsets and yet not accept the status quo.

Tamara: And I think there’s a lot of, at least for researchers who are kind of in-house and especially around these conversations of like to centralize or not to centralize and how to have strategic impact and how to get your partners not to treat you as a service. You know, the term consulting often comes up as like a negative thing. Like you, I’ve been in-house for the past decade or something like that, but I started out in consulting and I think we often use consulting as a dirty word, but there are actually really specific skills that come from being a consultant that are highly, highly applicable to trying to drive change in an organization. And part of that is exactly that. You’re coming in with a fresh perspective. You don’t yet take things for granted. You can see how things are dysfunctional in ways that the people who are too steeped in it sometimes can’t see or might not be motivated to change.

And so for me, that also has to do with being an anthropologist, right? Even though that’s not a big part of my work persona, it’s always going to be part of who I am and how I look at the organizations that I’m trying to help and trying to change is, you know, aside from being a researcher, just be a researcher on the organization. Like understand what are the rituals, where are decisions being made? What are the groups, what are the group’s norms, right? And you have to suspend yourself in a slightly outsider status in order to be able to observe those things.

Steve: So you’re coming in and embracing the new and observing those things and the rituals and the norms. At the same time, you’re creating something new. You’re changing the status quo around certainly reporting and the things we started off talking about. So coming in, taking a new role, what’s the dynamic between observing, understand and making new things?

Tamara: I got brought in to centralize research. There are expectations that are handed to you as a leader or ideas that are handed to you as a leader, but often words are thrown about, concepts are thrown about, frameworks are thrown about, you know, without necessarily the knowledge of what that actually means and how to do it. Right. And as a leader, it comes to you to figure out in practice in this particular organization with this particular group of people, what does that actually mean? What does it mean to centralize research? Like that is up to me to interpret and create a vision and a strategy around, of course, with the input of my team and of my peers. And so while I might come in with a mandate that was handed to me from somewhere else, I have to figure out what actually does that mean in the context of this organization. Even if the mandate is there, you know, listening is still the biggest first thing that I have to do is listen, observe, and then formulate a strategy based on that.

One of the things I love, you know, Tracey Lovejoy, who runs Catalyst Constellations. I love the whole concept of researchers being catalysts. Tracey doesn’t specifically have it for researchers, but I think the best researchers are, I just call it change agents. My journey wasn’t as smooth as this, but one of the reasons I do like being a researcher and anthropologist in industry is because we don’t do research just for the sake of research or for the sake of creating new knowledge, which is a really wonderful thing that exists too, but it is to change things, whether it’s changing the product, changing how the company thinks about their users or their customers, changing the mission of the company, you know, or changing how internally the company operates. If there’s no change, then what are we doing? But that’s the point, right?

Steve: Yeah.

One of the concepts or ideas that I’ve been trying to kind of bring to the teams that I’m working with is, look, learning how to do research, you know, learning how to do your planning and your alignment with your partners on like, what are the goals of the research and your recruiting approach and the study itself and the analysis. That’s a really important part of the job, but that’s only a fraction of the job. I have these two pie charts where one is called like doing research in quotation marks, and I have like, you know, it’s like split into four things. It’s like planning, research, analysis, presentation, right? That’s your whole pie chart.

And then I have a different pie chart where this is about what doing research really is about. Actually, the doing the research bit is only about a quarter of your job. The rest of it is all the other stuff that goes around it. The term that I like to use for this is orchestration.

I got that from Tracey Lovejoy, and this is my interpretation of that word. But it’s all about all the stuff that goes around it, right? It’s about storytelling and influence and developing a vision and creating alignment around who the customers are and creating alignment on what actually are the business goals. Like, why are we doing this research? What is this related to? It’s like your stakeholder mapping. It’s your internal research. It’s your knowledge management. It’s like improving how we work. All that stuff is part of research, right? And if you only think of your job as that quarter, you’re kind of missing out on, I think, some of the most interesting and also trickiest parts of the job.

Steve: As you talk, I’m realizing what assumptions I’m building that are wrong. I have this comical vision that, oh, you’re hired with these things the company wants to change, centralized research. I just imagine, oh, you got hired, first week, centralized research, then you move on. You’re talking about all the orchestration, the listening, the observing. What do you mean by centralizing? That making a change like that as a process. Because before I was asking, what’s the relationship between doing research and making a thing or making a change? I think what I’m hearing indirectly is it’s how you get the insight and the context to figure out well, what is that change actually going to be? That centralizing is not flipping a switch, It’s all the, I think orchestration applies to that, that you’ve been doing.

Tamara: Yeah, definitely. And a lot of that is just, I certainly underestimate this, but that’s a lot of just one-on-one conversations and a lot of repetition and a lot of kind of planting seeds or breadcrumbing, you know, leaving a little trail and then coming back to it, coming back with a new iteration. That’s the work. That’s a big part of the work. And I think this is true for researchers too, right? You could apply this on a research project or a research study basis, right? It’s like, it’s planting those seeds and coming back and having the conversation again. And if you don’t see that as part of your job or if you see that as like, oh, these are, you know, this is just kind of like operationally how I do it is I have a meeting. But if you don’t see those things as intentionally part of what you should be doing, then it becomes easy to see them as just optional. And then you, you know, you do your study, you’re onto the next study, for example. I think that’s one of the, when research teams are operating fast, deliver the report onto the next thing, right? Well, no, how are you working those findings into what’s next on the roadmap? And, you know, certainly some people are probably doing that really, really well. But I think thinking about the parts of your job that are orchestrating versus the doing the research bit, that’s something that I think has come up for me consistently. – It’s clear to me, the more we talk that.

Steve: It’s clear to me the more we talk that, and I know this is true, but I always forget, I think that being a change agent, it’s the long game. It takes time. Wherever the sources of these expectations are, do you think we set realistic expectations for ourselves about the kinds of change that we’re talking about?

Tamara: Do we set realistic expectations? I don’t know about that. I know of course one of the complaints that researchers have that is very valid is they’re expected to produce results faster than we can. I think coming from a consulting world, one of the benefits of coming from that world, if you’re used to scoping research within really narrow constraints and really fixed timelines, you learn quickly what it takes to do type X research and produce type X deliverable. Sometimes when I’m coaching folks who have grown up in-house doing research, they aren’t quite as calibrated to that, right? It’s like things stretch and we allow things to stretch and we have to be flexible to some degree.

I have an example where this was like maybe a month or so ago, a software product that I use in this role was one that I worked on as a researcher many years ago. We had been telling the company, this was me and a team of researchers, “Hey company, this thing is really bad for users. Really really really bad. We need to fix this and it’s going to have a huge impact on the overall experience.” This was like five years ago we were having that conversation. About a month ago I saw it updated in the product. That’s sometimes how long it takes. That’s like five years.

Yeah, the tail of impact can be really really long and that’s hard. That’s hard for researchers who are trying to get employed, trying to get promoted, trying to find a job after a layoff because sometimes we don’t have that story to tell. That’s hard if the rest of the organization is operating against other timelines. Sometimes it takes a while. But also really good change can be very incremental and it can be nuanced. Maybe it’s the language that people are using to talk about our customers. That’s a change that isn’t easily quantifiable but signals something about how people are thinking differently about customers or about users.

Steve: As you’re talking, I’m thinking about your two pie charts. The first pie chart is like completing a study, and the second part is, I’m now changing a little bit how you put it, but it’s the change that the research should drive. We’re collectively as a practice under more pressure to squeeze that first pie chart down. But I wonder if there’s even a recognition in those expectations that this other pie chart exists, that there’s more work to be done, because it isn’t about the deliverables. As you’re kind of saying, it’s all the things that happen afterwards. It seems like there’s a mismatch there, and this is turn studies over faster, but maybe not recognizing that to get the value out of the studies takes this second pie chart, takes all the orchestration, takes the other 75%. But then, maybe this is my presumption here, what does success look like? Does success look like executing that first pie chart faster, or does success look like the thing that takes five years? Like you said, you might not have a case study for your next job if you’re on a five-year timeline to see those outcomes.

Tamara: I mean, five years is an extreme example. One of the biggest impact research initiatives that I was able to lead in recent history, we had great results within six weeks. And I fought so hard to get three months of socialization time, buying air cover for my team. The study itself took six weeks. And then we spent three months workshopping, socializing, orchestrating. And part of the reason we were able to do that was that I was in a leadership position where I could protect the team and really fight for the team being able to do that. And it paid off. And overall, that is not a huge amount of time for the kind of study that we were doing. But it was about planning that in from the beginning. And also there was the stuff before the small part of the pie chart came in that had happened before in order to allow it to happen. I don’t want people to walk away from the podcast going, damn it, it’s gonna take five years before I have any impact.

Steve: Maybe the reframe is that even after five years, you’re still gonna see impacts happening. Great research can last for a long time.

Tamara Yeah, and some of the best research does. I think that can be one definition of quality for some kinds of research, right? That it’s gonna outlast the roadmap. It’s gonna outlast even the roadmap after that. And that’s some of the kinds of research that we’re doing right now and that we’re really focusing on.

Steve: When you talk about that air cover for your team, it makes me realize, and maybe this is, again, the consultant experience. I’m pretty good, as lots of us are, at scoping the first pie chart. And what are all the risks and so on. But to scope what you did, including that socialization, all the orchestration, that’s got to take some experience to be able to figure out how to plan for that. Is that three months or three weeks or three years, you know, you fought for that bandwidth to do that.

Tamara: And I think this isn’t an entirely original thought, but encouraging folks to think about the impact, start with the end. What is the ultimate decision that you’re trying to drive? Those conversations have to be part of your initial alignment and your stakeholder research that you’re doing at the beginning. If we don’t have clarity on that, sometimes not a great candidate for research, right?

Steve: The “project” isn’t a good candidate for research because —

Tamara: Embarking on research without clarity on there being an actual decision that we’re trying to impact, that’s where I can see research efforts going to waste. Not that we can anticipate all the impact that research can have.

Steve: If you can’t start with a decision that has to be made.

Tamara: Right.

Steve: In the olden days, it was, “We just want to know our customers better.”

Tamara: Yeah.

Steve: And is that — just doesn’t fly anymore, do you think?

Tamara: We just want to know our customers better? I think in this market and where we are today, I don’t see a lot of studies that start with that premise. In some ways, yeah, that would be a cool research study to do and certainly many organizations need to know their customers better. Sometimes in order to answer that question, I’m a big fan of the Trojan horse approach. It’s like, I know what the organization needs or we know what the organization needs. It’s kind of like eating your vegetables. I’m mixing metaphors here, but we know we need to give you a better understanding of the customers, but no one is asking for that in that particular way. So find the initiatives where you can teach the organization about how to understand your customers more holistically, but under the guise of something that’s already happening.

Steve: Yeah.

Tamara: And that’s something I’ve used successfully. It’s like, okay, the train is departing and they think they’re going this way. We can’t stop the train. Very rarely seen that research could go like, hey, could you put that product release on hold for six months while we figure out the research because you didn’t call us up soon enough. That’s not going to buy you any friends, but it might be something like, okay, I’m going to give this example without the company name. We’re making a huge investment in design this year. We’re going to redesign our top 10 tasks that users do in the product. This is a one that I faced. We’re going to redesign the top 10 tasks. Instead of going, put that on pause for, you know, give us three to six months to figure out, you know, what our customers say about the top tasks. My strategy there was to say, hey, you’ve already put all these resources on there. We’re going to make this huge investment in this redesign. And we help you figure out whether the things that you have on your list are the right things on the list.

So that when we make this investment in redesigning the top 10 tasks, we know that we’re actually hitting the stuff that matters to our customers. And by the way, tell me more about how you came up with that list. You know, what are the things that made it on the list? In this particular case, the way that the list was created was, well, these are the most frequent page views on the system. Well, guess what? Sometimes that is a symptom of a greater problem if there are a large number of page views, right? In this case, we knew that the IA was totally broken and customers couldn’t find stuff. So they just kept landing on the same page, right? So you may have things on your list that shouldn’t really be on the list. And let’s make sure that the right things are on the list. And we designed a research approach that addressed some of these bigger holistic, who are the customers questions. But we did it under the guise of like, hey, let’s make sure that you’ve got the right things on the list. And in that process, taught people what good generative research looks like.

Steve: You didn’t want to ask for three months. It wasn’t realistic.

Tamara: Yeah.

Steve: The train is leaving. Go do this research that would really help them make the right decisions

Tamara: Yeah. Yeah.

Steve: about where to put design effort. I think this is the Trojan horse example.

Tamara: Right. Yeah.

Steve: You’re going to focus on the top ten, but if you weren’t doing the Trojan horse, you were just, “Here’s the information that they need,” what would you have sought to bring back?

Tamara: I think the point is we would have stopped the design and engineering train entirely and said, let’s go back to our customers and figure out, maybe it’s not the top 10 tasks, you know, maybe it’s the top three jobs or outcomes that customers want to get. That will have the biggest bang for your buck and throw out this list.

Steve: How do we even talk about what’s important to customers and where should we invest our design in order to improve the experience as much as possible?

Tamara: Right.

Steve: But you can’t ask that question if you’re already choosing to design around these ten things.

Tamara: I feel like I’m in a job interview, but I can’t be really specific. You know, it’s like if you abstract it to the least identifiable level, how useful or good is the information for others?

Steve: I like it.

Tamara: You like it?

Steve: Yeah. You’ve alluded to some of the different roles you had. You’ve been in consulting and so on, but maybe we could more specifically talk about your journey, how you found — like you said, it wasn’t user research at one point. Maybe just describe a little bit about what your path has been to where we are today.

Tamara: I like sharing this path because I get a lot of requests to connect and requests for informational interviews, folks who are leaving academia or who have left academia and are thinking about transitioning into UX research. I used to get a lot more of those before this current job market situation. My story is, I was an academic, but my story is much more winding than that. And so I like to share it because, you know, there are paths in and out of different fields. So I originally thought that I wanted to be an industrial designer. That was as a teenager, I was like, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make doorknobs, which is a very specific thing to want to do when you’re 16 and 17. But that’s the kind of teenager I was. And I got into art school. I deferred my place in art school to go to Peru and do this kind of community service. By the time I came back, I mean, I was 18, you know, I didn’t know what was what, but that experience was so transformative to me.

I still went to art school, but I quickly during art school discovered the field of anthropology and I discovered it by reading about the anthropology of architecture and just reading about how different cultures create space and make space and conceive of space. And it just really resonated with me. I grew up bicultural and bilingual in Germany, and I suddenly had discovered this discipline where this thing that I had considered a disadvantage before, which is, you know, when you grow up between cultures, you often feel like you’re always on the outside, right? You’re never on the inside. You’re always on the outside looking in. Some people can integrate better, but I was always like, I didn’t feel like I was from the one place when I was there. And then when I went to the other place, I didn’t feel like I was from there either. And then I discovered this field that, you know, kind of takes that position or positionality and says, actually, there’s something really, really valuable about that. And what that position allows you to do is see the things that everyone else takes for granted in whatever that culture is and see them as making the familiar unfamiliar and making the unfamiliar familiar. And there are obviously lots of problems with anthropology and the history of anthropology, but there are also lots of really wonderful intellectual tools that come out of anthropology. So I went from industrial design to studying anthropology, and I was really good at school, very good at school.

So my professors, when I graduated from an anthropology bachelor’s, said, you know, you should really, you should stick around and do a PhD in anthropology because you seem to be really good at this. And I said, well, that’s not what I want to do. I want to go work as an anthropologist out in the world. And they said, good luck with that. See how that goes. You know, and this was before there were anthropology departments that were kind of thinking about how to teach students about taking some of these skills and applying them outside of being an academic anthropologist. I mean, my professors were like, there’s no way you could learn ethnography. You have to go do a PhD. We’re not going to teach you ethnography. I was really lucky, and there were two former PhDs from my anthropology department who had formed this tiny, tiny research agency, and they had just won their biggest to date contract with a little company called Microsoft, which was not even little back in those days. And Microsoft was interested in learning how IT and developer teams back in the days, one team, that’s kind of incredible to think about, like your IT support and your developers on one team, how those teams were structured and how they would respond and seek resources in a crisis or emergency kind of situation and like the knowledge that they would need. And they wanted to do a cross-cultural comparison, a multi-sided ethnography on this topic. And they had hired this agency to do it, and we were doing it in India, US, South Africa, UK, and Mexico. And they happened to need a Spanish-speaking ethnographer to go spend six weeks in Mexico, like not living with, but spending extended amounts of time with these Mexican development and IT teams. And they were like, do you want to do this job? And I had no idea what it entailed, but I said, yes, that sounds fun. I don’t understand what this is, but I’ll go figure it out.

And it was exhilarating to me that a big company like Microsoft was employing anthropologists and cared about culture and was considering culture and how they were developing solutions and services for these different teams. And I got to work with ethnographers working in all those other places as well. And it was really, really fun. It was exciting. I didn’t know that existed. And that kind of set me off on a consulting path. I continued to work with this company for probably the next 10 years or so, consulting, did a lot of service design work, lots of government work, lots of kind of social impact work, using ethnographic research, but informing solutions much wider than just digital solutions. I also, in that time, had this feeling that I still wanted the experience of doing anthropological field work in the way that anthropologists are trained to do. And so I actually went back and did a PhD, and I kind of had these two careers going on at the same time. I’ve written about this in an article, actually, where I kind of trace this journey.

And back in those days, I remember when I was on this panel, it was at the end of an anthropology conference, and they were like, we’re going to do a panel about people who aren’t academic anthropologists. And that was so few people, or it just wasn’t so visible that they had a museum anthropologist, like a government anthropologist, and then me. I was kind of representing private sector and social innovation space. That’s how we were representing all of that. And I talked about what I did. And at the end of the conference, I remember someone, this woman coming up to me, and she came up to me, and I was sitting on the stage, and she said, I work on the dark side too. And that was kind of what my experience was for the longest time, because academic anthropologists, they didn’t want to hear about this thing that I did on the side. And in my consulting life, I couldn’t really talk about the academic research. I was doing, and it was like two completely different careers. Anyway, eventually somewhere in there, it turns out it’s really hard to have multiple careers, especially if you also have a newborn, and you’re working in a new country, and a new continent, and you’re trying to rebuild your professional network. So that’s when I kind of made the switch into what was then UX design. I joined a UX design agency and narrowed in on my research focus to really focus on user experience. And from there, I went to a series of kind of in-house roles after that. But that was kind of how I got into UX research. So I like to say, I think I’m on my maybe third career, and I know it won’t be my last one. I’m excited to think about what the fourth one might be, but I’ve been in this one for a while.

Steve: And your careers sort of, they’ve fed into each other.

Tamara: Totally. Yeah, absolutely. Although my academic research had nothing to do with tech or UX research. I didn’t even think about that at the time.

Steve: But from a networking point of view or even some of the skills, it sounds like…

Tamara: Yeah, I think so. Some of the skills. I mean, I still, you know, be the anthropologist of the organization, like try to understand how the organization works, right? As much as being the researcher on the research project. And that has definitely shaped me. And also thinking, you know, another thing that we just still don’t do well, you know, I mentioned that first project I worked on for Microsoft. I’ve worked with Silicon Valley companies for, I don’t know, the last 10 years or so. We still do a really poor job of building a truly global product. And I think that’s something that anthropology can uniquely bring to Silicon Valley or tech. We all talk about it, but in practice, you know, we do research with people who are very similar to the people who are building the product, right? And we don’t think about that in a kind of systemic big picture way. It’s like, let’s take this thing that we built here and then try to apply it. We’ll just translate it to other languages and then magically people will buy it in Japan.

Steve: What’s the root of that, do you think, that blindness?

Tamara: Oh, so many, so many, I mean, some of it I think is just like how tech companies start and how they get big. It’s like startup culture or companies that started as startups, right? Here’s a technology, here’s a problem we’ve identified. We built a good solution. Now let’s see who else will buy it and then grow from there. I think part of it is just lack of awareness or appreciation of culture and how culture shapes how we use technology and how we, yeah, and how we build technology. You know, I think about having been part of a company that makes HR software and, you know, a lot of that starts with a very individualist understanding of who people are, right? Because they are transacting with the system. And if you think about a lot of the technology we use, it’s really geared towards individuals. Well, that doesn’t work as well in cultures where, you know, that isn’t the primary way or the dominant way of working, right?

Which by the way is no culture. Like we all work in teams. We all work with other people, right? So a lot of those solutions that I was working on were very, very focused on like, here’s an individual transacting with the system and then they get something out. But then you go to a place like Japan where they have these massive like corporate rituals around like once a year, we’re going to reassign a quarter of the company to new positions, right? That the software wasn’t built for something like that. It was built for like one person doing one thing that affects maybe one other person. Or if you think about like the recruitment process that involves lots of different people collaborating together and how do the products that you build reflect that and how are they flexible enough to accommodate for different ways of doing that?

Steve: We’ve talked about you and coaching researchers. What if you have any experiences or stories, examples to share about ways that you’ve worked with researchers in the past in a coaching approach?

Tamara: The stories I have are folks transitioning into research from other disciplines and really not getting any support in doing that. And then figuring out, like I had this one person who had been looking for new opportunities and had joined the UX team in a research role and was being put into positions where they were leading research, but without any mentoring around research. And I knew that this person was thinking about leaving the company and I chatted with them and it turned out this person had fantastic storytelling skills, amazing use of metaphors. They were also very, very creative and they had a lot of domain expertise and a lot of experience working with data people. And often as a leader, like your role is to like find the good in that person and then match that to the opportunities that actually exist within the company. And we happened to have this new, very highly like data specific product with a bunch of folks who are completely new to UX research. And there was an opportunity to get really creative with like the research and storytelling approach. And I coached them to really lean into that storytelling and they came up with this amazing research museum and really they needed some craft coaching, but there was already so much goodness that even some more senior experienced researchers at a higher level in terms of like the company levels didn’t have. And so it was just kind of about finding that balance between the strengths that were already there, leaning into those and doing research bit, which really, I don’t want to say this, I can say this to researchers, it’s not rocket science. It is a highly specific skill and we are trained in it and we are the experts in it and we should work with our partners and be seen as the experts in it, but that’s stuff you can learn. You can learn it and getting all those other skills around it, around storytelling and influence and that just takes more time.

Steve: So you’re in this new role. You said it’s just under three months. So this is a transitional time for you. Feels like we’re in a transitional period for user research in general, maybe tech in general, maybe knowledge work in general. But, hey, we’re talking user research here. How are you experiencing — if you agree, I guess I’m going to posit that there’s this transitional moment happening. What are you experiencing and what are you observing through this period?

Tamara: I think we’re always in transition. I feel like research conferences are a good barometer of like the themes that the community is interested in. You know, I’m seeing a lot of themes that have remained consistent over the course of my career. Themes around getting a seat at the table and having more influence. Lots of things have changed and lots of things have gotten better. I think a lot of the conversations are really similar to the conversations that I was having with my peers, you know, 10 years ago, 15 years ago. I’ve been doing this kind of work in some guys, whether I was wearing a UX research hat or before there was the UX research word, I’ve been doing it for a really long time. A lot of the discussions that we’re having are the same. There’s new technologies, there’s AI. A lot of those things are new, the way the market is right now is new. A lot of it is the same.

There is a lot of burnout that I see in my peers and that I sometimes recognize in myself too, right? This work, especially if you think about the orchestration as part of the work and the change being slow change, slow change over time, it’s tiring. It’s tiring to be a human doing this kind of work. And while I coach my teams to be really specific about impact and to speak the language of the business, which is often around metrics and business metrics and quantifiable outputs, I also hold at the same time, this knowledge that a lot of what we do and what we bring to the organization can’t be easily quantified and doesn’t fit narrowly into these efficiency, productivity outputs that we’re all being asked to be part of. Not just UX researchers, anyone who’s part of the capitalist system, which is by the way, all of us, right? That’s what we’re being forced into and our success is measured that way. And researchers need to know enough about that world and how to cast their work in those terms to be successful and to do what they want to do, which is often get a paycheck. At the same time, one of the things that keeps me human and here I’m venturing into the difficulty of putting a lens on something that’s really hard to describe or quantify or put into language is creativity and playfulness and joy. Where is that in our work as researchers?

I think for me earlier in my career, the stakes were lower. I was learning a new field. There was more curiosity and joy. Some ways I felt more empowered to be creative in my approaches. Also UX research, there wasn’t kind of a canon around how you do it, right? We were all kind of like making it up as we went along, right? And some of those early experiences in whatever career you’re in, but they shape how you think about what you do. I feel like all researchers, I don’t know about you, Steve, but like maybe you have that one of those mythical early projects that was just so visceral and it shaped you as a researcher, right? And you go back to that and you’re like, that was some cool research. Even if that research failed, right? I have one of those. It’s like a massive research flop, but it taught me so much about being a researcher and it just is part of my repertoire of how I see myself. And one of the things that I want to bring back or bring to researchers is an appreciation of their own creativity. And maybe this is a very like anthro-y word, but like generative capabilities outside of that quantifiable stuff and like impacting the roadmap and your OKRs and all that kind of stuff. And also in my own life, my trajectory, I started out thinking I was going to be a designer and then I became an anthropologist and I went deep into like academic world. I also did consulting, things that really took me away from creativity and play and joy. And there’s a lot of stuff happening in the world and I’m trying to find ways to remain a human in my role as a researcher, as a leader, as a person who works in tech, as a person who is part of the capitalist system that we’re all part of.

And there’s just something so innately human about creativity that I just want to encourage folks to tap into that. And many of the people I work with are sort of creatives on the side or elapsed creatives or fledgling creatives. And I really want folks on my team or folks that I mentor and that I work with to think about ways that they can bring those things together. Because when people do, it sounds cheesy, but like it’s magic that can happen. Right. And you can really have an impact on other folks and hopefully also feel more human in the work that you’re doing. If there’s a transition in tech right now that I feel personally called towards, it is like a reminder that these tools can be incredibly powerful and they can be used for good or for bad. You can make that about AI. You could make it about any kind of technology. I think the burnout in our careers as we spend time being research leaders is around, many of us got, I don’t want to say got called, but like we’re attracted to this kind of work. At least I was, because we felt like we could move a corporation or a big company or leaders to do right by, I want to say ordinary people. And for me, what the transition right now is that way of thinking is under attack. And we’re not the only people trying to do that, but I hope that new researchers coming in still see that as part of their role. Even when it’s so hard to get your stakeholders to buy into research, to care about the research. I don’t want people to despair. Yeah.

Steve: What’s the connection between individuals embracing or rediscovering or reconnecting with creativity and joy and the thing about the work that we might be called to that we don’t want to despair about?

Tamara: I think it’s about connecting with our own humanity. And maybe this is for me, creativity and playfulness is one of the ways that I find joy, obviously outside of work, but when I can tap into that, when I can bring that to a team, when I see a team bring that to work, it makes me feel more human. And we are workers, but we are not just producers of output. And to retain some of that sense of humanity for ourselves could be a source of energy or healing, or at least respite when we are being asked to produce more, produce faster, produce certain outputs. And we are maybe taken further away from some of the things that maybe attracted us to this kind of work in the first place. Well, I have a sort of fledgling creative practice on the side.

Steve: And you’re working on this idea of, I mean this is not just things that you’re talking about at work, you’re actively working on creativity and research. Do you want to say a little bit about what it is that you’re doing with that?

Tamara: I’m a community musician. I play music with my band. I’m learning silversmithing. I have certain things that I like to do that kind of take me out of the 10 hours of Zoom calls a day. And then I’m also thinking about creating more of a community dialogue around creativity and research. I think there’s multiple angles. One is people who feel like those two personas, researcher or ethnographer in industry or whatever research leader, and creativity are very separate and they have to stay separate. It’s like the one is a respite from the other. And then there’s also folks who I think are trying to integrate the two things more closely.

One of the examples that I’m thinking of is incorporating games into research. That’s something that I’ve kind of experimented with, whether it’s games that you do as part of your research or games to teach your stakeholders or partners about what research is, or kind of games and play to share your research findings in a way that just sticks differently from a slide deck. My sense is there are many folks out there who are thinking about this or who want to think about this and who maybe feel a tension between those two things. And what I’d like to do is just create some space for dialogue for, I don’t exactly know what’s going to come out of it. I just have a sense that there are more folks out there. So Fatima Richmond, who is my collaborator in this project, is a poet on the side. And we’ve talked quite a bit about how she used, this is her story to tell, but like used poetry and writes poetry as part of her life story and making sense of her life, but also how it allows her to have a different kind of empathy for her stakeholders.

I’m just excited to hear from the community of researchers, like how else are people thinking about this and how can we maybe blur some of those lines that keep us disconnected from something that’s really, really human and really great about being a human. And so we’re curating this salon at EPIC this summer where we’re hoping that people will share some stories and we’ve had a survey up for a couple of weeks and are kind of just collecting stories from the community about that.

Steve: I just want to add from a personal point of view, I think for me at least, there’s also an issue of identity…

Tamara: Yeah.

Steve: …because you’re kind of describing like poet on the side and so on. And for me, I started doing short story classes and workshops. I have a writer’s circle that I’m in now that meets every couple of weeks. And it feels very separate. I’m sometimes — it’s not quite embarrassed.

Tamara: Right.

Steve: But I guess I have to choose who I tell that to, because our livelihoods come from our credibility…

Tamara: Yeah.

Steve: …and through the things that we share about ourselves. And maybe one outcome is just to normalize that we can have creative pursuits, and they are silversmithing and being a community musician and being a poet and writing short stories. So I guess I’m trying to live up to that by just saying it to you in this environment. This is a thing that I do. Does it show up in my work? Yeah, I can point to some things. And it is neat when the stuff feels integrated or that what feels like separate halves kind of inform each other. But it isn’t always comfortable for me. I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s not always comfortable to sort of say, I do this thing which you might think is foolish, or I do this thing which I’m not very good at, which I think also feels risky to me. Because, yeah, I’m good at everything or else I’m not valuable. Anyway, that’s just sort of riffing on some of the questions you’re bringing up for me.

Tamara: Thanks for coming out outing yourself as a, as a short story writer, I appreciate that. Yeah, I think you know one obvious angle on this is like, Oh, how might your creative practice, make you better at being a researcher, and I’ve had the fortune of having, I think now three people on my teams who write and illustrate children’s books on the side, which seems like a really funny coincidence. You know, and there’s definitely something to be said for you know what does that entail that entails explaining concepts and really simple language and using really compelling simple graphics to convey your idea and telling a story that’s emotional of course I think that applies to UX research and for folks like that it’s like, I want you to feel like you can bring those those are amazing skills like, and they are so relevant because who wants to look through another slide deck with, you know, bullet points, and then you can bring them into your research, but that’s not even the angle I’m most interested in I’m not even most interested in like make UX research better because they’re, they’re also potters on the side, or it’s more about how do we, how do we retain and how do we show up in these work settings.

And we have to bring that ourselves like I’m there as the leader of my team saying I want to hear about this, how can you bring this in and, and I’m trying to model it to and some of that comes from, I’m, I’m now in my, I don’t know if this is my mid-career my late career, who knows right there’s gonna be other careers after this but I have some privilege. I have lots of privilege. I have privilege, and I have power and I have some security and stability in who I am when I show up to work.

And I feel like my being queer has become a huge part of my professional persona. And owning that and being and having that being part of who they are in their work persona. And I think that’s a really important part of being a queer person is that you have to be able to be a part of that because they do feel like they can retain that humanity in their work and that’s the part that the AI will not that quickly replace. And I think that’s a really important part of being a queer person is that you have to be able to be a part of that because they do feel like they can retain that humanity in their work and that’s the part that the AI will not that quickly replace. I don’t get to be bad at being a research leader. I don’t get to be bad at being a parent, you know, like I got to perform at a certain level, but with with playing music with my band like it is actually space to just make a make a bunch of mistakes and and be together for me it’s also about being together and being in that flow state that is so different from what work is. And I’m not saying you can replicate that at work, but it’s just a more humane picture of what a leader is and what a person is.

Steve: What’s a community musician specifically?

Tamara: A community musician is someone who plays music out in the community at high end exclusive venues like farmers markets and retirement communities. People rarely pay us to play music. Every once in a while they try to and we go, what is this for. So that’s how I define a community musician we’re not professional musicians, we’re not trained musicians. We’re doing it to stay human and to have fun and to share the joy with other people, not to make a living from it, which is very different from being a US research leader.

Steve: I want to ask a question but I want to qualify it. Because I think you’re creating space for these kinds of activities as things to just be. And they don’t have to be applied. I guess I want to ask what reflections you’re having about humanity and creativity through what you do as a community musician. But I just want to leave open the space that you don’t — that isn’t how you’re doing it because it might just be about just being.

Tamara: A lot of it right now is about just being. It’s about…now we’re getting like super woo woo Boulder slightly spiritual in the conversation, but some of that is just about being and it’s about being with other other people in a different way, and it is tapping into a part of my brain that is not about synthesis and analysis and strategizing and future planning, it is a very much in the moment way of being.

Steve: My bad question reminds me of a few years ago I took a sabbatical and someone asked me if I was going to write up what I learned on my sabbatical.

Tamara: Yeah.

Steve: And it’s kind of what you’re saying. Like that’s not the point. The point was to get away from that kind of thinking of like what are lessons learned and how do I apply them.

Tamara: Yeah.

Steve: Doesn’t mean I couldn’t ramble on about my feelings and my perspective on it. But I wasn’t trying to turn it into grist for that mill. And I guess that’s what I’m hearing from you. Community musician is not — even your project about what is creativity, what is humanity, you’re not trying to like squeeze it to produce conclusions or insights for yourself. You’re just doing it.

Tamara: And I’m trying to find the balance between that and the squeezing that is just part of the moment that we’re in right now at work. Right.

Steve: Right now this project, I think you call it a project, is you’re going to do something at Epic and you’re doing the survey. Do you know where that goes from here?

Tamara: Yeah. I don’t and part of the idea is to create room for more questions, and to explore and see where it will take us. I have no idea there seems to be some interest. And when I talk to people they’re like, Oh yeah, that thing creativity and I, you know, like one person was like, Oh, this is something I always forget to think about, and I’m like what if it wasn’t something you had to think about and what if it was just a practice. I don’t know where it will go. I have this vision of maybe like some sort of a library of of stories or or tools or anecdotes, and maybe some really more specific artifacts like, here’s a here’s a game that I created or here’s a way I told a story to to some stakeholders. But I think that’s the fun of it.

And that’s part of the creativity to is, I don’t know where it’s going to go. And what do people need and what, what do they want and how do we just make some space for that kind of thinking. And I don’t get to do that at work as much. We have to be really laser focused on the outcomes, and I talked earlier about starting with the end in mind, right. This is a practice in doing the opposite. But that’s also kind of the spirit of of research, too. I think sometimes, you know, as some of us come from academic backgrounds where, you know, maybe we have the opportunity to do research more for the sake of research for opening for adding to the knowledge in the world. But as you transition into tech or industry, it’s research with a very specific purpose. And some of the best research in in industry has a very specific purpose.

And the concept of research can be a very creative and open and generative process, right, it when it’s about exploration, which is the opposite of hypothesis testing so I guess I’m just, I’m just trying to hold these very opposite ways of being a researcher and a human in the world in this crazy crazy moment and remind myself that the creativity and the joy and the open mindedness and the space. That’s where I feel, you know, most human and I refuse to believe that I can’t have a little bit and bring a little bit of joy to my teams and my partners and the folks that I get to work with.

Steve: Tamara, I want to thank you for taking me on kind of a journey in this conversation. We’ve covered lots of really interesting stuff and you’ve been really generous with your thoughts and your time. So, yeah, thank you for being on the podcast.

Tamara: Thank you so much, Steve, it’s been really great to chat with you today and I hope there’s some goodness and what I’ve shared.

Steve: It’s all goodness.

Tamara: Excellent.


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